Stress from COVID-19—along with stress related to healthcare, the economy, racism and the presidential election—is seriously threatening the mental health of our country, particularly our youngest generation, according to a new national survey from the American Psychological Association (APA).
“Loneliness and uncertainty about the future are major stressors for adolescents and young adults who are striving to find their places in the world, both socially, and in terms of education and work,” said IPR developmental psychobiologist Emma Adam, who led the design and collection of data on teenagers for the report.
The potential long-term consequences of the persistent stress and trauma created by the pandemic are particularly serious for our country’s youngest individuals, known as Generation Z. The 2020 APA survey shows that teens (ages 13-17) and young adults (ages 18-23) are facing unprecedented uncertainty, experiencing elevated stress and are already reporting symptoms of depression.
While older Americans may be able to embrace the feeling of “this, too, shall pass,” young adults are at a pivotal moment in their lives and are experiencing adulthood at a time when the future looks uncertain.
“We must work to provide social, emotional and mental health supports to this generation, while providing much-needed financial assistance and educational and work opportunities for youth,” Adam said. “Both comfort now and hope for the future are essential for the long-term well-being of this generation.”
The survey also indicates most Americans are not getting the support they need. The majority of adults (61%) say they could have used more emotional support than they received over the prior 12 months, with more than eight in 10 Gen Z adults (82%) saying the same.
Adam helped create recommendations to support young people struggling to cope, including economic, training and work supports and mental health services, including increased telehealth options and enriched school mental health services. Some specific recommendations include creating meaningful opportunities for connection, celebrating milestones in new ways, and facilitating access to mental health issues during and after the pandemic.
Emma Adam is Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Human Development and Social Policy and an IPR fellow.